(Note: Some of the following points refer specifically to literary adaptation and are meant to follow peformances of required high school texts e.g. The Great Gatsby, but most are general and can follow any performance.)
This, combined with another memory, a theater troupe that visited my grammar school, is why I do what I do. The troupe had been traveling across the country, and, in a rare instance of cultural investment, our school paid for them to visit. There were four actors and one of them, I remember, could do sound effects with his mouth like that guy from the Police Academy movies. They worked with one class at a time -- the classes were small, fifteen kids maybe -- and with nothing but a collection of hats, the group shepherded us around the school gymnasium, the four corners of the basketball court, making us feel like we were in space, the jungle, underwater, on a mountain. I've since attended plenty of plays, many of them extravagant -- New York, London, Paris -- but that tour of my grammar school gym remains one of my most memorable and formative theatrical experiences. Considering it now, a quote comes to mind, from an essay by T.S. Elliot, "a small thing done well." A small thing done well.
|Charlie McCarthy, Edgar Bergen, and Shirley Temple.
ENTERTAINMENT A radio drama, rooted in a required text and staged for the students of that text, compresses and, I think, electrifies the narrative, creating a more entertaining and indelible impression of character and story (much like the proverbial rolling in of the TV cart to watch Mel Gibson's Hamlet or Gary Sinise's Of Mice and Men), while still forcing the audience to actively participate. Our staged radio dramas have a decidedly visual component, but push the listener/viewer to imagine the setting, to “picture” the details. Radio dramas cultivate a student’s ability to suspend disbelief; they teach students (or non-students) to listen and help them circumnavigate the visual set engendered by TV and movies.
INTERPRETING or REMIXING a TEXT How one translates the mute presence of words-on-a-page into an aural experience. You gravitate towards certain moments, highlighting scenes that may be buried or incidental in the source material, because of their, what? let’s call it acoustic potential or aural vitality (for example, when Jay Gatsby has his worker mow Nick's lawn). Through compression, you also, I think, focus less on theme and more on character and narrative. While The Great Gatsby radio play is only an hour and, accordingly, many scenes are heavily edited or cut entirely, I emphasize two scenes, both short and buried in Fitzgerald's novel, because of their critical contributions to Gatsby’s character: the lunch with Meyer Wolfsheim and the visit from Gatz.
HISTORY The great radio auteurs like Orson Welles (and his famous Jersey-centric broadcast, War of the Worlds), Charles Correll (who popularlized the dramatic serial) and Arch Oboler, the first playwright to have his own national radio series, the chilling Lights Out.
|Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Sherock Holmes & Dr. Watson
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